Photographic mind   28 Feb 2006

For many people it’s simply a case of point and shoot, but for some photography is an innate talent. ERICA FOSBENDER talks to Kiwi photographer Kerry Brown about life behind the lens.

His CV reads like an invitation list to the Oscars, yet Kiwi photographer Kerry Brown remains simple in his approach to his subject.

It’s not just about taking pictures of people – albeit famous ones – it’s about capturing their essence and the entire space around them.

Brown has photographed the likes of Keira Knightly, Winona Ryder and John Hurt. He has travelled far and wide to work on film and TV sets. He has worked as a director and cinematographer on both film and music ventures. It sounds like the high life, but Brown balances it well with family and Maori culture.

"It’s an ecclectic mix of things I do, which I love.

"I follow my camera around, it takes me places and introduces me to people. I’m constantly travelling and meeting people," he says.

But all the travel and variety doesn’t take away from his rich family life and participation in his Maori culture.

He lives in south London with his wife Rosanna Raymond and two children Malia (10) and Salvadon (13). They are part of Ngati Ranana, with the children taking part in kapa haka, and Rosanna an influential force in the Maori-Polynesian community.

He admits it’s a busy lifestyle but one he is more than happy with.

"London is a love-hate relationship, it’s really busy but I get to work on some interesting projects," he says.

When I spoke to Brown he explained how the previous day he had been working with Sadie Frost on a fashion shoot for her label Frost and French. It was a 19-hour day – the model had to be painted from head to toe – but long hours are all part of the job and you have to work until the job is done, Brown says.

He says the main breadwinner is working on film sets, taking still photographs, and his first foray into this was Once Were Warriors in 1994, not a bad place to start really.

Brown grew up in Takapuna and originally wanted to be a skateboarder. His father gave him a camera and Brown managed to land a job with Rip It Up magazine, which cast him in the role of rock and roll photograper in the late 70s and early 80s. A chance meeting with a professional photographer while hitchhiking landed him the role of photography assistant and the opportunity to work with Nigla Dixon in fashion.

Despite no formal training Brown’s career continued to flourish and eventually London started calling.

Like many Kiwis, Brown had the desire to get out and see the world, but more importantly be in the middle of a vibrant, culturally alive city. London is definitely the place for an artist to ply his trade.

"London is the most competitive place in the world. There is an amazing pool of established people and influential media."

Leaving New Zealand, Brown’s CV already boasted an inpressive list of Kiwi talent, including working on the sequel to Once Were Warriors, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? and Scarfies. He also worked with Crowded House and later the Finn Brothers, Cliff Curtis and Lucy Lawless.

In London he had the opportunity to work with established professionals in an enviornment that nurtured the arts and had a much longer history of doing so than New Zealand. It had that international flavour that Brown was keen to capture.

"London is multicultural. It has art and culture on a level that is so much more sophisticated than New Zealand. It has a history of culture."

While he keeps an eye on New Zealand, he says most of his work comes from non-New Zealand projects.

A recent project was the UK film Bullet Boy, shot in Hackney, and the epic Australian film, The Proposition, which was shot in the Australian outback. He prefers working on film because he has more time with the subject, whereas in television there’s a rapid turnaround.

"I try to avoid television," he says despite a recent stint on Doctor Who. One of the things about London that excites Brown is its racial energy. And he extends the same variety in his professional life to his private life.

And working in the industry allows certain privileges, such as backstage at the Royal Albert Hall at the Finn Brothers’ concert. Brown’s son Salvadon played drums for them for part of it. His daughter Malia also read out a poem at Westminster Abbey during the last Anzac Day service. Then there’s the "hanging out with Druids at Stonehenge".

It’s all part of the experience for Brown, whose career is gaining plenty of momentum. But like many Kiwis he typically downplays the situation.

"I’d like to keep on doing what I’m doing and be more successful at it," he says, adding one day you can be riding high and the next unemployed.

"London has the potential for the switch to flick."

But that’s just one of the many aspects that keeps the experience fresh.

For more information visit www.kerry-brown.com.

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